Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Author Spotlight: E.F. Watkins

Written By: Tracy - May• 31•11

Today’s Spotlight is on E.F. Watkins. She is the author of paranormal suspense, thriller and action/adventure novels including Dance with the Dragon and Black Flowers, both of which have won the EPPIE award for eBook publishing. Her most recent release, One Blood is the sequel to Dance with the Dragon.

Disgusted with his long, bloodthirsty existence, Jon Sharpay discovers a fresh challenge–the last living descendent of the arch-enemy who nearly destroyed him a century ago. He travels from New York City to Princeton University to hunt down Kat Van Braam, a curator at the university’s art museum. But Sharpay is also being hunted, by two men: one determined to avenge the death of his pregnant young wife, the other a foreign agent out to recruit Sharpay’s paranormal skills for an international crime organization. When Sharpay meets the brilliant and beautiful Kat, his plans for her expand beyond mere revenge. Kat is also drawn to ‘Dr. Sharpay,’ the mysterious Eastern European scholar, until she learns his true nature and identity. She fights his enslavement of her will and vows to succeed where her ancestor failed–to keep this creature from ever harming anyone else. But will Kat be undone by her own ‘sympathy for the Devil’?

Your novels have won EPPIE Awards. For my readers who aren’t familiar with the EPPIE, could you describe it?

The EPPIE Awards were/are given out by EPIC, the Electronically Publisher Internet Coalition (www.epicauthors.com). These days, they are called the EPIC eBook Awards. They are given to books that are available in electronic form (they may also be in print, as mine are). I won an EPPIE in 2004 with my first published book, DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, as Best Horror Novel, and my novel BLACK FLOWERS was a 2006 EPPIE Finalist in the Action/Thriller category.

You write both horror and mystery. Are the two easy to combine?

Up to now, most of my books have been paranormal thrillers, and the horror and thriller genres combine pretty easily. What might be unusual about mine—it did seem to stump a lot of traditional publishers—was that I was writing “paranormal romance relationship suspense.” That means there’s a relationship and a paranormal element, but one of the partners may actually be the villain and there’s no guaranteed happy ending! My 2009 book DANU’S CHILDREN was my first paranormal murder mystery, although even that morphs into more of a thriller toward the end, and the hero is enamored with a woman who is…not quite what she seems. My next book, DARK MUSIC, will be a first-person, amateur-sleuth mystery involving a haunted house. In the past, mystery readers didn’t like “real” ghosts or psychics in their plots, but happily that has changed now.

It seems like dark fantasy and paranormal romance have lately been stealing all the tropes from horror novels. How do you write a horror without having it slip into the realms of dark fantasy?

I get impatient with labels, but from what I’ve read I suppose my books could be described as dark fantasy. I don’t write hard-core, relentlessly gruesome horror, although there are a few scary/gory scenes at key points. But I also don’t write “Twilight”-type romance or lots of graphic sex scenes. (May have lost some potential readers there—sorry!) I like a good thriller plot where there’s more at stake than just the question of whether the male and female “leads” will end up together. My protagonists tend to be idealistic types who are at least as worried about saving other innocent people–and maybe the world–as about saving their own skins.

Your biography lists that you are a professional Journalist. Does your work in Journalism color your fiction writing?

For most of my career, I’ve written full-time for daily newspapers, and that can both help and hinder a fiction writer. On the one hand, you learn to stay on top of your spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, etc., until it all becomes second nature. You also learn to put your butt in the chair and bang out a story, whether or not you feel “inspired.” But if you’re trained in the hard-news “pyramid” structure, which puts all the key information in the beginning and makes everything understandable to a sixth-grader, that can backfire. When you’re writing suspense, you have to leave some things a bit mysterious! Also, writing and editing all day at work can make it hard to come home and do more of the same at night. But in the long run, it’s great to learn to write clearly and concisely and research thoroughly, as you have to do on a newspaper job. The techniques of teasing your reader, etc., you can always learn on your own time.

Before you wrote DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, you visited one of Dracula’s castles in Europe. How did that visit play into your book?

My villain in DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, cult leader Stephen Farkas, is a 200-year-old vampire who believes he was indirectly “created” by Dracula, back in Eastern Europe (Drac would already have been undead for about 300 years by then). Dracula is never referred to in my book by name, but Farkas calls him The Black Prince. Visiting Hungary and Romania back in the 1980s gave me a feel for those countries and helped me describe Farkas’ memories. The site I visited was Bran Castle, a major tourist spot–Dracula supposedly spent a short while there. But the castle where he committed most of his atrocities, and which most closely resembles the description in Stoker’s novel, is Castle Poenari, a fortress high above the Arges River. It’s in ruins today and you need serious hiking skills to get up there, so I’ve only seen that one in a TV documentary!

What was the most challenging thing about writing One Blood?

Writing a prequel was an adventure, especially since I set it in the late 1990s, just before the events of DD. In OB, which takes place mostly in Princeton, N. J., my hero and heroine meet, almost destroy each other and finally end up as partners. (Together, they battle Farkas in DD.) Since Princeton is so well-known, I had to research what buildings did or did not exist in the town and campus around that time, what technology students would or would not have been using, etc. I was shocked to realize how much has changed in just over ten years!

Do you have a favorite book out of all of your titles?

You could say my “favorite” is always the one I’m currently working on, and I think a lot of authors feel that way. The books that are already out are done deals, and you’re always challenging yourself in some new way with the latest. That said, I’ll always have a special feeling about DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, because it was the first to find a publisher. I also really love the unique relationship between Kat Van Braam and Armand Renascut, which is why I wanted to delve a little deeper into them with the prequel.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice as a young writer just starting out, what would that advice be?

That’s a great question—I’ve never been asked it in quite that way before! I suppose it would be, “learn the conventions of various genres and take them seriously.” Writing cross-genre probably kept me from being published for a long time. On the other hand, I might still have stubbornly kept on doing my own thing—who knows?

Where can we find you on the web?

My main site is www.efwatkins.com. It has background about where I got the inspiration for each of my six books, some writing advice, a fun quiz about Dracula, photos from past appearances and notices of my upcoming appearances. I also have a blog on LiveJournal and WordPress (I blog erratically, but you may still find the topics interesting), and I’m also on Facebook.

Would you like to add anything else that I may have missed?

I’m glad that there are so many options today for readers who like paranormal plots and characters. When I started writing, many moons ago, paranormal had to be horror or fantasy. I’d write what I thought was horror, but with more of a thriller or mystery “voice.” Gradually, horror novels became both more realistic and more gruesome, while paranormal crept into other genres. These days, you can find otherworldly elements in thrillers, mysteries and romance. While not all of these books may appeal to me, personally, I’m still happy about this development, because it’s opened the door for me to write (and publish) in the style that comes most naturally to me!

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2 Comments

  1. It sounds as if you handle the cross-genre element wonderfully–and props to you for finding a way around when traditional publishing still prefers more of a slot. Congrats on the EPIC e!

  2. Great interview! Love the plot twists and will definitely check out your books.